Beef Eggplant Stir-Fry and Wholesome Weekends

sooooo good
sooooo good
There are weekends that you spend PARTAY-INGGGGGGGGG.

And then there are weekends where you clean your house and workout and sleep on-time and hangout with friends and play boardgames and DON’T get crunk and you’re just generally a good kid.

That’s what I did this past weekend. I was a good kid. And it was awesome. And I feel really good now.

Sometimes it’s good to be good.

Also make this beef eggplant stir-fry, because it’s actually very good and it calls for mint which, incidentally, is a very surprising and refreshing substitute for basil. And it’s spicy and that eggplant soaks up all that zesty, fishy, gingery sauce and it’s SO good.

I’m #justsayin but you should #justcookit.

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Moments of Absolute Clarity

Like a beam from the sky!
Like a beam from the sky!
80% of the time I walk around with about a billion things on my mind.

It’s either work or friends or that next thing I have to do or, or, or…

So when something is really bothering me, I try to find a billion solutions.

I talk to my friends about it.
I talk to myself about it.
I blog about it.
I go see a counselor about it.
I Google my Astrology sign.
I Google somemore.

In the middle of me trying to solve, or resolve, whatever is bothering me, I sometimes fill my head up with so much noise that I don’t ever really find the answer or the peace I am seeking.

And then if I ever find myself about to walk somewhere, a perfect time for reflection, I choose to plug in my earphones and listen to whatever playlist is striking my fancy (right now it’s Latin Dance – yeah you know it’s good) and dance myself to my next destination.

There is little time for me to really just think about observe a situation and come up with any sort of realization. And when trying to address something, I analyze all reason out of it.

But luckily it seems like my mind has figured out a way to help me out.

When I’m half-awake at night stumbling to the bathroom for a middle of the night pee (All you small-bladdered people do this – don’t lie), sometimes I find I am struck by these BLINDING epiphanies about whatever is bothering me.

I kid you not, halfway from my room to the john the voice in my head will go from “Oh, why is there SO much light” to suddenly “How could you have worried about that inane thing, when in reality you’re being ridiculous and need to just take it easy.”

Funnily enough most of my midnight conversations to myself involve telling myself to chill out. And then my other self tells my clarity self, “Yes, yes I know, now let me pee and sleep, I’m very tired.”

In the morning I’m usually struck by this feeling like I’ve spoken to a fairy godmother or something and that they’ve told me something really important.

I guess I’m lucky – to have a fairy godmother AKA myself – who’s got my back. Maybe I just need to trust myself, a little bit more and Google, a little bit less.

Lime House

Jerk chicken!
Jerk chicken!

What: A Caribbean-style restaurant and bar in the very trendy Keong Saik neighborhood.

Pros: The vibe and decor is great but the real winner is their banana cake dessert with fig ice-cream. I dream about it when I’m alone at night.

Cons: The jerk chicken, AKA the only savory food I ate the night I visited them, was only ok. I thought Caribbean food was supposed to be spicyful and flavorful and I found it spicy-ish and flavorful-ish. And it’s expensive! Ish.

Verdict: Go but for the drinks and vibe. I have a feeling they make mean drinks. And if you don’t like it you can always go to The Cufflink Club – where, apparently, all of Singapore likes to congregate.

Details:
Lime House
2 Jiak Chuan Road
Singapore 089260

Cooking with… PZ

Aerial shot
Aerial shot

I met PZ at work, under what I would describe as not very fortuitous circumstances. She doesn’t know this but we became friends because I thought it would be a good idea to charm her since we had to work together and people generally work better with people they like so…*

Little did I know that once I embarked on this friend-making journey that I was going to end up liking her.

And how couldn’t I? Pei Zhen or PZ, as she gently told me to call her (Pei Zhen is too long, lah!) is a highly capable Comms professional at work and a scarily skilled chef/baker at home.

Some of the earliest text conversations are her telling me how she was making some blueberry cheesecake and Horlicks flavored ice-cream for Chinese New Year “because her mother-in-law liked it.” Hardcore and a good daughter-in-law, what more could you ask for?

As our whatsapping progressed she divulged that she has her own version of french onion soup, packs a gourmet lunch for herself and her husband almost every day and that she’s a walking encyclopedia of cooking information. If I needed a recipe or a way to do something, there were PZ recommended variations or solutions. She’s a 21st century Martha, no airs and graces and ready to draw on her resources for a good meal. This includes real-life cook books, the Internet and her vast experience (which includes on-going friendly culinary competitions with her Mom who also cooks scarily well).

Knowing her made me realize that I wasn’t the shit in the kitchen. But not in a bad way. She just made me realize, some people were made for cooking and some people were made for communicating. So I decided to communicate how she cooks.

This is what I’m hoping will be a new series featuring people in Singapore who cook and who are generally inspirational.

When I mentioned this idea to PZ, she was all for it. She also decided to take it as an opportunity to “school” me and get me to like kale. Kale, the one health superfood I can’t get into. It’s like grass. But tougher. And possibly grosser.

SO. PZ says she will make (while I help and observe) a chorizo-kale-stew thing.

Right.

On the appointed day, PZ came over, all business. She wanted to know where the spices were AND she had brought an entire container of homemade ice-cream dotted with chocolate bits for dessert. If she wasn’t already married, I would have been first in line to woo her.

PZ doing her thang
PZ doing her thang
Knife
Knife
Knife skillz 1
Knife skillz 1
Knife skillz 2
Knife skillz 2
Knife skillz 3
Knife skillz 3

Did PZ live up to how good I thought she was? Well, let’s just say she had no hesitation in taking charge of the kitchen. And her knife skills? I mean I know how to chop things but compared to her I’m like a blind man with three fingers. Can you say EVEN.

Produce shot
Produce shot
Beans for days
Beans for days
Another pretty produce shot
Another pretty produce shot

The stew was all sausages, beans, dried spices and chicken stock. It was hearty, warm and very satisfying.

Me! Being useful
Me! Being useful
Chorizo in all its raw glory
Chorizo in all its raw glory
Chorizo and spices
Chorizo and spices
Chorizo and spices
Chorizo and spices
Kale
Kale
So much kale
So much kale
Chorizo and kale
Chorizo and kale

PZ confidently breezed through all the cooking, with minimal help from me, except towards the end of cooking when we tasted the stew and it was just flat.

But what do you do? I would have just let it go, eaten the flat stew and lamented about how I was never cooking that again!

PZ tasted it. Hmmed and haaed. Asked me for my opinion. Declared it needed some oomph – in the form of red wine vinegar.

Repeated Instagram photo
Repeated Instagram photo

It did the trick, gave dimension to the stew which we enjoyed with a loaf of crusty sourdough bread from Marche and a glorious Sauvignon Blanc from who knows where.

It was a fantastic lunch and an even better experience.

PZ had made me realize, that you should never accept a bad outcome. Instead, you should always try and fix it.

It might work or it might not.

But it could mean the difference between being good or being great.

*This may also be the genesis of my friendship with you. But don’t worry, we are both benefiting from the relationship. I promise.

**My flatmate Hoi is the photographer for these beautiful pictures, which is what happens when you decide to stick around and eat the lunch. There’s no such thing as a free one, people.

*** I still don’t like kale.

Jonathan’s

The brownie that got me to Jonathan's
The brownie that got me to Jonathan’s

What: Gluten-free, super un-pretentious cafe, located in Little India, owned by the cutest couple in ALLTHELAND.

Pros: This is obviously a haven for all the gluten-intolerant (real and imagined) people in Singapore and their big breakfast (don’t actually remember the name) was delicious. And, AND they salt the eggs so that I don’t have to. What is it with unseasoned food in restaurants nowadays? It should be perfect on a plate, I shouldn’t have to do any work when I’m eating out.

Cons: Hard one to admit but though I visited Jonathan’s for their salted caramel brownie (my colleague had given me a regular brownie her niece aka the owner of Jonathan’s had baked and it was todiefor) – I didn’t like it that much. Their savory options win over the sweet.

Verdict: OMG visit them and eat and laugh and pretend to be healthy – you know you want to.

Disclaimer: My friend and colleague’s niece actually owns Jonathan’s BUT this review is unbiased. Even if I spent most of brunch chilling with the owners screaming, “I DON’T WANT TO SALT MY SHIT!”

Details:
Jonathan’s
17 Dalhousie Lane
Singapore 209685
+65 6291 3396

It’s like I visited Mongolia or something…

A wider shot than the original - so you can see the BIG BLUE SKY
A wider shot than the original – so you can see the BIG BLUE SKY

As you all know – I went to Mongolia for a vacation, recently, and I took a lot of pretty pictures.

But the thing is I actually took even more than the ones you’ve seen. So voila! Ils sont ici!

This is a photo story combined with random things I think you should know about Mongolia.

Rocks and sky. There's a story behind this rock. Ask me in person. Used a VSCO filter
Rocks and sky. There’s a story behind this rock. Ask me in person. Used a VSCO filter
Lightly edited shot in the countryside
Lightly edited shot in the countryside
Wide shot of the gyrs we stayed in
Wide shot of the gyrs we stayed in
Shot of the gyr! And my Dad looking badass. Used a VSCO filter
Shot of the gyr! And my Dad looking badass. Used a VSCO filter
That sky!
That sky!
Sky, sky, sky!
Sky, sky, sky!
Me and my father-in-law? I don't know what I'm supposed to call him, but father in Mongolian is "Ow" as in ow!
Me and my father-in-law? I don’t know what I’m supposed to call him, but father in Mongolian is “Ow” as in ow!
I took this shot after a 30 minute solitary hike/walk up a hill in the countryside while listening to 90s tunes. I needed to get away and I got great pictures!
I took this shot after a 30 minute solitary hike/walk up a hill in the countryside while listening to 90s tunes. I needed to get away and I got great pictures!

They are famous for their meat and their dairy. I don’t drink milk, but I did eat a lot of sheep, beef and more sheep. It was delicious. Top three things to eat in Mongolia, horshoo (deep fried meat dumpling), horhog (meat and vegetables cooked in a pressure cooker with the heat from freakishly hot pebbles) and barbecue (you know this). Try and get home-cooked versions of this. Like by making friends with locals.

Mongolian currency is Tugguruk – and it’s about USD1 to MGT1,900. Think about it like Korean won (if you’re familiar) and it’s close. Things in Mongolia aren’t that cheap – you’re looking at pricing similar to Singapore for food and clothing.

Parking lot at the Genghis Khan memorial
Parking lot at the Genghis Khan memorial
Genghis Khan - shot from below
Genghis Khan – shot from below
I don't know what I was trying to show. Maybe that the statue is really big?
I don’t know what I was trying to show. Maybe that the statue is really big?

People are really into Adidas. Like REALLY.

Mongolian sounds like a cross between Korean and Russian. It sounds especially Korean to me because of that one time, I lived in Korea…

The city was modeled after Soviet cities. Whatever that means.

View from the apartment in Ulaanbaatar
View from the apartment in Ulaanbaatar
Streets near the apartment in Ulaanbaatar
Streets near the apartment in Ulaanbaatar
Downtown Ulanbaatar
Downtown Ulanbaatar
Downtown Ulanbaatar
Downtown Ulanbaatar
Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar
Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar
Sukhbaatar Square - lightly edited
Sukhbaatar Square – lightly edited
Genghis Khan (of course) - processed with a VSCO filter
Genghis Khan (of course) in Sukhbaatar Square – processed with a VSCO filter
Genghis' bodyguards. I used a VSCO filter
Genghis’ bodyguards. I used a VSCO filter
Lightly edited shot from the Sukhbaatar Square. Lot of construction going on in Mongolia
Lightly edited shot from the Sukhbaatar Square. Lot of construction going on in Mongolia

Alcoholism is a problem.

Pick-pockets are everywhere. Keep you money stashed safely on your person and don’t flash your fancy shit around.

Summer doesn’t start till July/August.

Buddha statue and me! I used a VSCO filter
Buddha statue and me! I used a VSCO filter
Soviet WWII War Memorial on what used to be the highest hill in Mongolia. Processed with a VSCO filter
Soviet WWII War Memorial on what used to be the highest hill in Mongolia. Processed with a VSCO filter

The Mongolian alphabet is the Cyrillic alphabet – aka the Russian alphabet.

Good places to eat while in Ulaanbaatar:
Broadway – serves great Western and other food.
Jur Ur – the best chocolate tart I’ve eaten in my life came from this place. There’s either coconut or bits of heaven in the crust.
Korean food is generally great – so you can probably eat that anywhere.

The two best things in Mongolia are it’s BIG BLUE SKY and it’s people. They are straightforward, warm and hospitable.

As we sped to the airport my brother yelled, "Take a picture - that's UB!" This is that picture.
As we sped to the airport my brother yelled, “Take a picture – that’s UB!” This is that picture.

Holiday Burn-out

 The maximum I can spend on a holiday or retreat or any kind of getaway is about a week. This is usually because I get bored or tired of the vacation and want to get back to my real life.

While this might seem like a symptom of being perennially unable to switch off, I think this is an underreported symptom of vacationing that everyone feels – holiday burn-out. 

What exactly is holiday burn-out, you ask? It’s that feeling you get before, during and/or after a holiday when the fun or family time or leisure time isn’t enjoyable anymore. It’s just plain exhausting and stressful. And your 9 to 5 is starting to sound like a lot more fun than sunning yourself on the beach till you turn a flaky golden-brown.

So for me, I think part of the reason why I miss work and home, while I’m even on the funnest (real word TM DiniBlini) of vacations, is because I like routine. Another reason for this vacation intolerance could be that I actually find my life to be more interesting or exciting than a vacation.

Or maybe holiday burn-out is inevitable – we all feel it once we’ve passed that self-determined window of time that we allow ourselves to mentally check out. Mine just happens to be a week. 

I have friends who enjoy two, three or a month long vacations and I envy them. Is it that they really know how to live it up while on holiday or is it that I just haven’t found a place or time or experience worth missing real life for?